While this is good news for Smith (for to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord!), it's terrible news for those at Calvary Chapel who have pinned their blessed hope on being raptured away with an icon of American evangelicalism and the chief cornerstone of the long-dead Jesus Movement.
Three decades later, the church that spawned 2,000 little Calvaries all over the world is devoid of the anytime-now anticipation of meeting Jesus in the air.
Instead, the former "little country church on the edge of town" is filled with sensibly dressed Baby Boomers more zealous for Colonial Penn than the book of Revelation.
Not that the congregation isn't peppered with younger people, but even they seem to have moved on from end-times readiness to real-time resignation. Or maybe it's just the Sunday morning crowd.
Jan. 29 9:30 a.m, Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa aka Calvary Chapel Santa Ana aka Big Calvary aka The Mothership
A bumper sticker implored godly motorists to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Of course, how Calvary Chapelites earnestly pray for the peace of Jerusalem is always a mystery in light of their eschatological playbook, which has the Antichrist slaughtering most of the world's Jews during a future seven-year period known as the Great Tribulation.
Indeed, Calvary Chapel has come a long way from taking in the bare-footed believers of the 1960s, those who would dance in the spirit on the streets that are golden. The church long ago crucified the counter-culture Christ on the cross of a comforting liturgy. They buried a dangerous Messiah and raised a mascot. Where have you gone,Lonnie Frisbee? Our Calvary Chapel turns its lonely eyes to you.
The church was packed, but had the atmosphere of a waiting room at urgent care, with folks looking like they had to be there or else whatever ailment they had would only get worse.
A visitor to Calvary Chapel who hasn't been there in some time will first notice the pews have been replaced with theater seats. That, and there are a helluva lot moreMexicans. But be of good cheer! The OCeeker couldn't detect anything illegal in their eyes, and one must assume if a Mexican attends Calvary Chapel, he is one of the good ones.
The OCeeker also noticed a shortage in babes. Time was when a young brother in Christ could have his pick of young sistren at Calvary Chapel. These days, unless he wants a woman on the verge of her personal rapture, a blue-balled brother would do well to visit Calvary Chapel for the sermon, and ROCKHARBOR for the women.
A man stands behind the OCeeker, telling three friends that the Lord is helping him with his taxes: "He always comes through."
After a pianist opened with a Neptune Society-esque version of "Amazing Grace", Smith said a prayer.
Then he led the singing of the hymn "I Am His, He is Mine." A randy lyric spoke of being "clothed in everlasting arms/pillowed on the loving breast." Hey now!
Pastor Brian Brodersen led the next prayer. He is Elisha to Smith's Elijah, the most likely to take the mantle when Smith is called home. Others have made their audition at Big Calvary, but Brodersen has the inside track because he is married to Chuck's daughter, Cheryl. When one is body rockin' and pillow talkin' Papa Chuck's daughter, you can best bet who gon' get the keys to the pulpit.
Smith then dedicated some toddlers to the Lord, saying prayers over them. The dedications were followed by a Neptune Society-esque version of "Jesus Loves Me."
A choir of red necktie-wearing men then hit the stage for a medley of hymns that would have made Eutychus fall out the window. At that point, most of the congregation stopped singing. This isn't your Uncle Wavy Gravy's Calvary Chapel.
Brodersen, apparently using his syrupy voice to audition for a spot on National Public Radio, gave some announcements, and the ushers took an offering. He and Smith then traded verses during a congregational reading of Psalm 42.
Smith prayed again, while Brodersen stood behind him and held a chair on which Chuck could sit. Trust Game!
Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On
Smith then preached a sermon on Jeremiah 48:11: "Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity: therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed."
The essence of the message was that Christians should be careful not to take it easy spiritually, because God will then shake things up in their lives, to recalibrate their trust in him.
And the OCseeker got a glimpse perhaps into what motivates Smith to continue preaching deep into old age.
"So many people today, when they get to that point of comfort and ease, they say 'I'm just going to kick back, I'm just going to take it easy,'" Smith said. "And they are dead within six months of taking it easy."
Within a month of coaching his final football game - the 1982 Liberty Bowl - legendary Alabama football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant died of a massive heart attack. In 2008, sportscaster Brent Musburger appeared on The Dan Patrick Show, where he talked about another coaching luminary, Penn State's Joe Paterno (thanks to Deadspin.com for the transcript):
"This is a tough one for me because I have to say up front that JoePa is a dear friend of mine...I'll tell your listeners the truth as to why he still does it. He is fearful -- and he looks back at Bear Bryant as the example -- he is fearful that he would not be with us if he stepped away. He is a man that doesn't fish, doesn't play golf...he has no other interest other than his family and football. And he's just afraid what would happen with the rest of his life if he walks away from it."
Paterno died Jan. 22 from lung cancer, only two months after he was fired from Penn State under the cloud of a child sex abuse scandal involving his former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky.
Paul Bryant. JoePa. Papa Chuck?
Still, Smith remains sharp for his age, and he delivers a clear, Christ-centered message that goes down smooth. The OCeeker gave the sermon a C, though: More comforting than challenging, the message was simple enough for a child to swim in, but too shallow for a theologian to drown.
Smith closed the service with a Calvary Chapel tradition: the singing of Numbers 6:24-26.
In a congregation of at least two thousand, only one person introduced himself to the OCseeker. The man was developmentally disabled and asked if he could take the open seat next to him.
Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa meets every Sunday at 7:45 a.m., 9:30 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. at 3800 S. Fairview St., Santa Ana, (714) 979-4422; www.calvarychapelcostamesa.com